Everyone remembers that scene from Macbeth – a cavern, in the middle, a boiling cauldron – thunder. Enter the three witches – and then there’s that “Double, double toil and trouble, Fire burn, and cauldron bubble” stuff. Macbeth in his rise to power has had a strange team of political advisors – these three witches – and they know he’s about to drop by for another strategy session. The second witch senses it. “By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.” Enter Macbeth.
The odd thing is that Macbeth doesn’t think of himself as wicked. It’s just that the rather nasty things he finds himself doing to become king do add up. He comes to understand what he has become and falls into despair with those famous lines about how “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and is heard no more.” And there’s his final analysis. “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Sure, he’s now the king, but so what? The choices that he felt he had to make to become king ruined him. He feels nothing now. Nothing matters. Some people just aren’t cut out for politics. Second thoughts will kill you, and who hasn’t felt by that pricking in the thumbs, when a politician is speaking, that something wicked this way comes? Politicians must be advised by some really nasty people, perhaps with a boiling cauldron, and they certainly don’t have second thoughts. And Donald Trump is not Macbeth.
Trump seems to embrace the wicked. It makes him happy. That’s why he just went south:
Thousands of people showed up to hear Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump speak at an Alabama rally Friday, in which the business tycoon vowed, “We’re going to make America better than it’s ever been.”
The crowd filled about half of the 43,000-seat Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile. It was a hot night, and humid. Trump looked upwards and joked: “If it rains I’ll take off my hat and prove, I’ll prove, once and for all, that its mine,” while stroking his hair.
Then it was down to business:
Trump repeated his tough stance on immigration, vowing “we’re going to build a wall,” and saying Congress could end the guarantee of being granted citizenship upon being born within the U.S.
“The 14th Amendment – I was right on it. You can do something with it, and you can do something fast,” Trump said. “In the case of other countries, including Mexico, they don’t do that. It doesn’t work that way. … We’re the only place just about that’s stupid enough to do it,” he said.
The “it” in question is declaring anyone born here is a citizen. That’s what he wants to change, and the crowd was huge – twenty thousand cheered him on:
Trump got some of his biggest cheers from the crowd Friday when he pledged to strengthen the military and take care of veterans, and when he extolled his skills as a businessman – while taking a swipe at GOP rival Jeb Bush.
“Who would you rather have negotiate with China, Japan, Mexico, any other: Trump or Bush?” Trump asked. The crowd cheered, and some began to chant “Trump! Trump! Trump!”
The Associated Press had other details:
Republican front-runner Donald Trump on Friday joked, “Now I know how the great Billy Graham felt” as he addressed the largest crowd yet of his thriving presidential campaign. “I would like to have the election tomorrow,” Trump crowed. “I don’t want to wait.”
He knows his audience:
Before Trump arrived, his fans – some carrying signs, others wearing T-shirts supporting the billionaire businessman – spoke of his outsider status in a crowded field dominated by former and current elected officials as the song “Sweet Home Alabama” blared from loudspeakers.
“Donald Trump is telling the truth and people don’t always like that,” said Donald Kidd, a 73-year-old retired pipe welder from Mobile. “He is like George Wallace, he told the truth. It is the same thing.”
Billy Graham and George Wallace, that duo plays well in the South, so they loved their Donald:
Savannah Zimmerman, a 27-year-old registered nurse from Mobile, agreed. “I think he appeals to us Southerners because he tells it like it is and he has strong opinions. That is the way we are here in the South,” she said.
Mary Anne Bousenitz, 59, a retired psychiatrist from Tuscaloosa, said she isn’t offended by the insults Trump has directed at women, like “dog” and “bimbo.”
“I’m not married to the man and it’s not like I’m going to have to sit across a turkey at the table with him,” she said.
And before the rally, Trump tweeted this – “We are going to have a wild time in Alabama tonight! Finally, the silent majority is back!” Add Nixon to Graham and Wallace.
That made this pathetic:
Republican rival Jeb Bush’s campaign e-mailed thousands of supporters in Alabama on Friday night, denouncing Trump as a Republican presidential candidate. The campaign statement said Trump favors partial-birth abortions, supports restrictions on gun rights and backs laws that infringe on states’ land rights.
“Trump’s positions are deeply out of step with the Alabama way of life,” the campaign said in the email. “We know Alabama cherishes life, especially the life of the unborn.”
No one cared, but up in Washington, Charles Krauthammer cared, at least about mass deportation:
Last Sunday, Trump told NBC’s Chuck Todd that all illegal immigrants must leave the country. Although once they’ve been kicked out, we will let “the good ones” back in. On its own terms, this is crackpot. Wouldn’t you save a lot just on Mayflower moving costs if you chose the “good ones” first – before sending SWAT teams to turf families out of their homes, loading them on buses, and dumping them on the other side of the Rio Grande?
Less frivolously, it is estimated by the conservative American Action Forum that mass deportation would take about 20 years and cost about $500 billion for all the police, judges, lawyers, and enforcement agents – and bus drivers! – needed to expel 11 million people. This would all be merely ridiculous if it weren’t morally obscene. Forcibly evict 11 million people from their homes? It can’t happen. It shouldn’t happen.
It is wicked:
And, of course, it won’t ever happen. But because it’s the view of the Republican front-runner, every other candidate is now required to react. So instead of debating border security, guest-worker programs, and sanctuary cities – where Republicans are on firm moral and political ground – they are forced into a debate about a repulsive fantasy.
This is madness:
Mitt Romney lost the Hispanic vote by 44 points and he was advocating only self-deportation. Now the party is discussing forced deportation. It is not just Hispanics who will be alienated. Romney lost the Asian vote, too. By 47 points. And many non-minorities will be offended by the idea of rounding up 11 million people, the vast majority of whom are law-abiding members of their communities. …
If you are a conservative alarmed at the country’s direction and committed to retaking the White House, you should be concerned about what Trump’s ascendancy is doing to the chances of that happening.
That’s practical advice. Don’t promise to be mean and nasty. Regret it.
But that’s too Macbeth. That’s not Trump, as Heather Parton notes:
Ever since The Donald descended that escalator at Trump Tower a couple of months ago to announce his entry into the presidential race, Democrats have been laughing. Watching the Republicans squirm and Fox News jump through hoops has made the GOP presidential primary a delightful entertainment for their rivals on the other side of the aisle. I don’t know how many of them had it in them to watch the whole Trump Town hall extravaganza in Derry, NH, on Wednesday – but those who did were unlikely to be laughing by the end of it.
There was the standard braggadocio and egomania that characterizes his every appearance and weird digressions into arcane discussions of things like building materials (for The Wall, naturally.) He complained about the press and politicians and declared himself superior to pretty much everyone on earth. But after you listen to him for a while, you come away from that performance with a very unpleasant sense that something rather sinister is at the heart of the Trump phenomenon.
She was the second witch. She sensed wickedness approaching, and so did Chris Hayes that same night:
I want to talk about what we are seeing unfold here because I think what we are seeing is past the point of a clown show or a parody. I believe it is much more serious and much darker…
You have someone now who is getting huge crowds, who is polling at the top of the GOP field, who polls show is beating Jeb Bush by 44 to 12 percent on the issue of immigration, going around the country calling little children, newborn babies, anchor babies saying that he’s going to use that term which I find a dehumanizing and disgusting term. Talking about giving the local police the ability to “do whatever they need to do to round up” the “illegals”. Building a wall, talking about basically chasing 11 million people out, talking about deporting American citizens to “keep families together”, talking about what would essentially be the largest most intrusive police state in the history of the American republic to go about this task – that is the person that is right now at the head of the Republican party’s presidential contest.
Parton sees that too:
Trump repeatedly paints a picture of America in decline – weak, impotent and powerless, in terrible danger of losing everything unless we get a leader who will cast off all this “political correctness,” this effete insistence on following the rules. He promises to “make America great again” by cracking down on the “bad people” and being very, very strong.
When talking about Iraq, he characterized the Iraqi people as cowards, “running whenever the bullets are flying.” He said “the enemy has our best equipment, we have the old stuff” and that the country is a mess because of all the “years of fighting unsuccessfully – because of the way we fight.” (The implication is that we didn’t take the gloves off.) He said, “The problem is that as a country we don’t have victories anymore. When was the last time we had a victory?” And he declared, “I believe in the military and military strength more strongly than anybody running by a factor of a billion… We are gonna make our military so strong and so powerful and so incredible, so strong that nobody’s gonna mess with us, folks, nobody. And we don’t have that right now.” This garnered huge cheers from the crowd.
On economics, it’s all about other countries taking advantage of the US. He said, “They’re up here, we’re down there. I don’t blame China or Mexico or Japan. Their leaders are smarter and sharper and more cunning – and that’s an important word, cunning – than our leaders. Our leaders are babies…our country is falling apart.”
And none of it is true. Trump saying this sort of thing just feels true, like saying the people in the streets in Ferguson and Baltimore weren’t really black. Everyone knows they were Mexicans who slipped across the border to murder our men and rape our women:
We have to build a wall; we have to get the bad people out. A lot of the illegals, if you look at Chicago with the gangs… you look at Baltimore, you look at Ferguson, a lot of these gangs, the most vicious, are illegals. They’re outta here. The first day I will send those people … those guys are outta here. [Cheers]
They talk about guns, I’m a big second amendment person, I believe in it so strongly [cheers]. Big! But they talk about guns and you look at Chicago, Chicago has the toughest gun laws in the US by far, and people are being shot with guns all over the place. You need enforcement but you also have to get the bad people out, the people that aren’t supposed to be here and we’re gonna get em out so fast, so quick — and it’s gonna be tough. It is not gonna be “oh please will you come with us please will you please come with us.” Because you know these law enforcement people, and I know the guys in Chicago, the police commissioner’s a great man. They can do it, if they’re allowed to do it. I know the guys, I know ’em, New York, they’re great. Bratton, great! They can all do it. They can all do it. But they have to be allowed to do their job – they have to be allowed to do their job. [Cheers]
Parton notes that it’s not only liberals like Chris Hayes who are becoming alarmed by this, but Republican strategists like Alex Castellanos with this:
When a government that has pledged to do everything can’t do anything, otherwise sensible people turn to the strongman. This is how the autocrat, the popular dictator, gains power. We are seduced by his success and strength… As our old, inflexible government grows beyond its capacity to service a complex and adaptive society, and its failures deface our landscape, it creates demand for efficiency. Who can bring order to this chaos? Who has the guts and the strength to make the mess we have made work?
Then, the call goes out for the strongman. Who cares what he believes or promises? And with the voice of the common man, though he is anything but, the strongman comes and pledges to make America great again.
Mussolini promised to make Italy great again, and Mussolini made the trains run on time, damn it. And he didn’t take any shit form anyone. Many Americans thought he was the ideal leader way back when – in the thirties, in the middle of the Great Depression. Something wicked this way comes, again, and Parton sees why:
It’s easy to dismiss Trump’s ramblings as the words of a kook. But he’s tapping into the rage and frustration many Americans feel when our country is exposed as being imperfect. These Republicans were shamed by their exalted leadership’s debacle in Iraq and believe that American exceptionalism is no longer respected around the world – and they are no longer respected here at home. Trump is a winner and I think this is fundamentally what attracts them to him.
I will be fighting and I will win because I’m somebody that wins. We are in very sad shape as a country and you know why that is? We’re more concerned about political correctness than we are about victory, than we are about winning. We are not going to be so politically correct anymore – we are going to get things done.
His dark, authoritarian message of intolerance and hate is likely making it difficult for him, or any Republican, to win a national election, particularly since all the other candidates feel compelled to follow his lead. (Those who challenged him, like Perry and Paul, are sinking like a stone in the polls.) And while Trump’s fans may want to blame foreigners for all their troubles, most Americans know that their troubles can be traced to some powerful people right here at home. Powerful people like Donald Trump.
Still, history is littered with strongmen nobody took seriously until it was too late. When someone like Trump captures the imagination of millions of people it’s important to pay attention to what he’s saying. For all his ranting, you’ll notice that the one thing Trump never mentions is the Constitution.
There’s a reason for that. President Trump could tell the Supreme Court what he tells all fools. You’re fired! If the Supreme Court rules that the words of the Fourteenth Amendment mean exactly what they say, well, he could abolish the Supreme Court by executive order – and Congress too, if they get uppity. You’re fired!
He seems to think that way, and folks seem to like how he thinks. Or many do. This is getting very strange. Maybe it’s dangerous.
The American Enterprise Institute’s Norman Ornstein offers a warning about that:
Almost all the commentary from the political-pundit class has insisted that history will repeat itself. That the Trump phenomenon is just like the Herman Cain phenomenon four years ago, or many others before it; that early enthusiasm for a candidate, like the early surge of support for Rudy Giuliani in 2008, is no predictor of long-term success; and that the usual winnowing-out process for candidates will be repeated this time, if on a slightly different timetable, given 17 GOP candidates.
Of course, they may be entirely right. Or not entirely; after all, the stories and commentaries over the past two months saying Trump has peaked, Trumpmania is over, this horrific comment or that is the death knell for Trump, have been embarrassingly wrong. But Trump’s staying power notwithstanding, there are strong reasons to respect history and resist the urge to believe that everything is different now.
Still, I am more skeptical of the usual historical skepticism than I have been in a long time. A part of my skepticism flows from my decades inside the belly of the congressional beast. I have seen the Republican Party go from being a center-right party, with a solid minority of true centrists, to a right-right party, with a dwindling share of center-rightists, to a right-radical party, with no centrists in the House and a handful in the Senate. There is a party center that two decades ago would have been considered the bedrock right, and a new right that is off the old charts. And I have seen a GOP Congress in which the establishment, itself very conservative, has lost the battle to co-opt the Tea Party radicals, and itself has been largely co-opted or, at minimum, cowed by them.
As the congressional party has transformed, so has the activist component of the party outside Washington. In state legislatures, state party apparatuses, and state party platforms, there are regular statements or positions that make the most extreme lawmakers in Washington seem mild.
And there’s that other factor:
Egged on by talk radio, cable news, right-wing blogs, and social media, the activist voters who make up the primary and caucus electorates have become angrier and angrier, not just at the Kenyan Socialist president but also at their own leaders. Promised that Obamacare would be repealed, the government would be radically reduced, immigration would be halted, and illegals punished, they see themselves as euchred and scorned by politicians of all stripes, especially on their own side of the aisle.
That means we’re in new territory now:
First, because of the amplification of rage against the machine by social media, and the fact that Barack Obama has grown stronger and more assertive in his second term while Republican congressional leaders have become more impotent. The unhappiness with the establishment and the desire to stiff them is much stronger. Second, the views of rank-and-file Republicans on defining issues like immigration have become more consistently extreme – a majority now agrees with virtually every element of Trump’s program, including expelling all illegal immigrants.
Third, unlike in 2012, when Mitt Romney was the clear frontrunner and the only serious establishment presidential candidate, and all the pretenders were focused on destroying each other to emerge as his sole rival, this time there are multiple establishment candidates with no frontrunner, including Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, and Chris Christie. And each has independent financing, with enough backing from wealthy patrons to stay in the race for a long time, splitting the establishment-oriented vote.
The financing, of course, raises point four: We are in a brave new world of campaign finance, where no one candidate can swamp the others by dominating the money race. When establishment nemesis Ted Cruz announced his campaign, he had $38 million in “independent” funds within a week, $36 million of it from four donors. There is likely more where that came from. Some candidates may not find any sugar daddies, or may find that their billionaires are fickle at the first sign of weakness. But far more candidates than usual will have the financial wherewithal to stick around – and the more candidates stick around, the less likely that any single one will pull into a commanding lead or sweep a series of primaries, and thus the more reason to stick around.
Fifth, the desire for an insurgent, non-establishment figure is deeper and broader than in the past. Consider that in the first major poll taken after the GOP debate, three insurgents topped the list, totaling 47 percent, with Donald Trump leading the way, followed by Ted Cruz and Ben Carson. And, as Trump and the insurgents have shown depth and breadth of support, desperate wannabes like Scott Walker and Bobby Jindal have become ever more shrill to try to compete.
Ed Kilgore can only add this:
The burden of persuasion in the current cycle is increasingly shifting to those pundits and political scientists who insist we’re all being hysterical and we’re guaranteed a nice, calm “centrist” general election between Bush or Rubio and Hillary Clinton that will turn on economic statistics rather than all the wild-ass messages we’ve been hearing from the right non-stop since 2010 at the latest.
Something wicked has been coming this way for a long time now. Enter Donald Trump.